Members of the Muskie boys' and girls' curling rinks are sure excited to get their seasons going.
And why wouldn't they be?
For the first time since 1981, Fort Frances will host the 2018 OFSAA boys' and girls' curling playdowns this March, with both Muskie squads having a bye to the provincials.
The boys' rink is heading into the season on the heels of a heart-breaking defeat in the NWOSSAA finals to the Hammarskjold Vikings (Thunder Bay), where they missed advancing to the all-Ontarios by one shot.
Skip Chris Silver, forced to sit out all of last season due to a torn hamstring, hasn't played since winning silver at OFSAA in 2016.
Now in a “victory lap” at Forty High, the 18-year-old is looking forward to the season ahead and a return to OFSAA.
“I'm pretty excited,” he said during the team's practice Friday afternoon.
“Last year I saw how everyone got buzzed about the hockey and I hope it's somewhat close to that,” he noted, referring to Fort Frances hosting the OFSAA boys' tournament this past March.
“I'm excited for people to come out and watch, and for my friends who haven't watched curling to come out and see what it's all about,” Silver added.
With the pressure of competing well in front of the home crowd, it could be easy for one to lose their head in the midst of it all.
But Silver believes knowing they already have an automatic berth into the tournament (as host) will make staying focused easier during the season.
“It's good to know that you're going to make it, but you have to maintain your practice and make sure you train on and off the ice,” he stressed.
“It'll be a challenge to make sure that everyone stays in the mindset of being focused every game and to treat it like we're not in yet, even though we are, so we don't lose our skills.”
Making up the Muskie boys' team this season is Silver, Jason Bazylewski, Daniel Vandenbrand, and newcomer Owen Riches.
“We have a contending team,” enthused boys' coach Ron Silver, who also is co-coach for the Muskie mixed rink.
“These boys have a lot of experience," he noted. "Three of the four boys [Silver, Bazylewski, and Vandenbrand] were on that silver medal-winning team in 2016.”
Ron Silver also believes hosting the OFSAA tournament will be beneficial for the community.
“I think it's going to be fantastic for the kids, for the town, for the club in general,” he remarked.
"It's a big event. It draws 40 teams—20 boys' teams, 20 girls' teams—and you get the best curlers.
“We were lucky enough to go [to OFSAA] a couple of years ago, and just the atmosphere and experience for the kids is fantastic,” he enthused.
Silver added the organizing committee's goal is to put on the best OFSAA tournament ever.
On the girls' side, the Muskies won the NorWOSSA crown last season and look poised to be a top team again this time around.
Skip Tory Beaudry decided to stay for a “victory lap” at school and has a mix of emotions when thinking of competing in front of the home crowd come March.
“I'm nervous and excited at the same time because it's our home club and we have our hometown to impress,” she reasoned.
"And at the same time, we get to go to OFSAA and curl.
“It's exciting because that's what we love to do,” she enthused.
Katrina Slomke, Andrea Schram, and Ashley Payne round out the girls' squad, which is coached by Kim Beaudry, also the mixed team's co-coach.
The first competition of the season for all three rinks will be Dec. 10-11, with a location still to be determined.
Christine Denby, a member of the OFSAA organizing committee, noted players on the mixed team could be slotted into the boys' and girls' rinks later on in the season for the NorWOSSA qualifier.
The mixed team includes Ben Olsen, Jordan Bazylewski, Brett Schram, Kian MacEvoy, Lauren Penney, Mackenzie Taylor, Sami Stone, and Daphne Chabot.